JOHANNESBURG – The two awards Siphesihle Ndlovu left Sandton with on Tuesday night brought a sense of triumph and loss to the Maritzburg United ace.
The 21-year-old from Ashdown in Pietermaritzburg won the Absa Premiership Young Player of the Season and Midfielder of the Season awards.
While he was happy with the rewards of a stellar season, a part of him was sad that one friend wasn’t there to see him shine in the spotlight.
“After my family, the most important person that I thought of when I got these awards was Mlondi Dlamini, my late teammate,” said Ndlovu.
“I would like to dedicate these awards to him. We grew up together. When I was holding these awards I felt so emotional because I know that if he was here it would have been a different story. We would be celebrating together.”
The Team of Choice’s historic season reads like the opening of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. This was the best of times and the worst of times for Maritzburg. They accumulated the most league points in their history and appeared in their first final (the Nedbank Cup) which they lost to Free State Stars.
It was a season of light and darkness but Maritzburg punched above their weight to finish fourth in the PSL, waking up Sleepy Hollow with their exciting brand of football.
But they also mourned the death of two players this season. Luyanda Ntshangase, who was struck by lightning, passed away just over six months after Dlamini.
“We had to be strong after losing Mlondi and Luyanda because it’s not easy to lose someone. We had to stand up and say, 'let’s do this for them',” Ndlovu said.
Less than a month after Ndlovu made his Maritzburg debut against Bidvest Wits on December 20, 2016, the Team of Choice lost Mondli Cele who died in a car accident.
The losses the KZN Midlands side have suffered in the last two years, along with narrowly avoiding relegation on the last day of the 2015/16 season, makes what they have achieved even more impressive.
Ndlovu is the epitome of the hope that has engulfed the club and the city. He is a local lad who started as a ball boy and went through the structures before playing for the first team.
But at first he didn’t think he could reach such heights.
“I won’t lie, I doubted myself when coach Ernst (Middendorp) was still here. I was thinking that being in the first team at that age was too early for me.
That’s why I didn’t play much under him because I wasn’t that confident. But when coach Fadlu (Davids) took over, he made me believe in myself. He really played a huge part in my performance this season because I became brave under him.”
He returned to Polokwane after the PSL awards in Sandton. He is part of a relatively young Bafana Bafana team who start their Cosafa Cup campaign on Sunday in the quarter-finals against the winners of Group A.
“It’s a dream come true,” Ndlovu said. “I’ve been wishing to play for my country and I have been willing to make a difference in the team.”